TEL AVIV – Israeli forces were Assault on the main hospital in the Gaza Strip. on Wednesday, a major escalation of its attack on the Palestinian enclave that further raised fears for the hundreds of patients and staff trapped in the Al-Shifa complex with fuel, food and medical supplies dwindling.
The Israel Defense Forces said its soldiers were carrying out a “precise and targeted operation against Hamas” in a specific area of the hospital. In a video briefing, IDF spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said the raid was carried out out of “operational necessity,” as intelligence indicated Hamas activity had been detected there.
Global attention has been focused on the hospital for days, and the news that troops had entered the site prompted new expressions of concern from American leaders, the World Health Organization and aid groups.
The Israeli military has maintained throughout the conflict that Hamas is hiding in tunnels under Gaza hospitals, including Al-Shifa. The United States said Tuesday that its own intelligence also confirmed that Hamas was using the Al-Shifa hospital to hide military operations. Both Hamas and the hospital workers have denied the accusations.
The Israeli military said that before entering the hospital complex, its troops found explosive devices and terrorist cells, although it did not offer further details or specify where it occurred.
“A clash began in which terrorists were killed,” the IDF said.
NBC News could not independently verify those claims or the situation on the ground.
Thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped inside Al-Shifa, including dozens of premature newborn babies.
As of Tuesday night, the IDF had acknowledged that it was involved in “heavy” fighting around the hospital, but this appears to be the first time troops have entered the facility.
“Yesterday early afternoon they started, you know, really aggressive shelling and shooting around the hospital and inside the hospital,” said Dr. Ahmed El Mokhallalati, a plastic surgeon at Al-Shifa Hospital. told Reuters On Wednesday.
He said a tank entered “inside the hospital from the main east gate,” and then parts of the hospital were hit “directly,” including the outpatient department and the fourth floor of the main building. He said a patient’s room was also hit, leaving a hole in the wall, but “fortunately no one was hurt.”
“We don’t know what to do,” El Mokhallalati added, explaining that those inside the hospital could not move between buildings. “It’s a totally terrifying situation,” he said.
The doctor called the IDF’s claims that Hamas is based in Al-Shifa a “big lie.”
The Mokhallalati did not immediately respond to calls from NBC News on Wednesday.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health in Gaza said the IDF had informed health officials around dawn local time on Wednesday of “its intention to storm the Shifa compound.”
In a statement, Hamas condemned what it called an “aggressive raid on Al-Shifa.”
“Medical staff and multitudes of internally displaced people are now facing the barbaric attack on a health facility safeguarded by the Fourth Geneva Convention,” he said.
Dr AS Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a post on X that the “reports of military incursion into Al-Shifa hospital are deeply worrying.
“We have once again lost contact with the hospital’s health personnel. We are very concerned for their safety and that of their patients,” he continued.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, said American leaders “do not support attacking a hospital from the air, and we do not want to see a hospital shooting where innocent, helpless, sick people are simply trying to get the medical care they deserve.
When Israeli soldiers launched their operation in Al-Shifa, the IDF said incubators, baby food and medical supplies had been delivered to the hospital by tanks. The military shared X-ray images showing boxes labeled “medical supplies” and “baby food.”
The IDF said the forces involved in the Al-Shifa mission included medical teams and Arabic speakers with “specific training to prepare for this complex and sensitive environment.” He said the forces had no “intention” to cause harm to civilians in the raid.
El Mokhallalati told Reuters he feared what would happen to patients if they were forced to leave the hospital.
“We are happy to remain within the hospital committed and dedicated to helping our patients,” he said. “I am very afraid that they will evacuate the hospital in some way: they will just throw patients here and there, without giving them the basic right and opportunity to receive treatment.”